Bagram, April 9 (Reuters): The US military said 11 Afghan c ivilians, seven of them women, were killed early today when an American bomb missed its target and landed on a house in eastern Afghanistan.
“Eleven Afghan civilians were killed and one was wounded early this morning when a bomb dropped by coalition aircraft landed in a house on the outskirts of Shkin near the Pakistan border,” said Douglas Lefforge, a spokesman at the US military’s headquarters at Bagram air base north of Kabul.
“Coalition forces never intentionally target civilian locations,” he said. Shkin is in Afghanistan’s Paktika province.
“The tragic incident occurred when enemy forces attacked an Afghan military post checkpoint that was providing security near the Shkin firebase just before midnight last night,” he said, referring to a US base near the village.
He said four government soldiers had been wounded in the attack by opposing forces. “A quick reaction force from Shkin responded and pursued the attackers towards the border; close air support was requested,” he said. Lefforge said US Marine Corps AV-8 Harriers had pursued two groups of five to 10 enemy personnel, firing cannons at one group and aiming a 1,000-pound laser-guided bomb at the other. “That bomb missed its intended target and landed on the house,” he said. “The circumstances of the bombing are being investigated.”
He said the dead were four men and seven women, adding a man was also wounded.
About 11,500 American and allied troops are in Afghanistan pursuing remnants of the former Taliban regime and the al Qaida network of Osama bin Laden, blamed for the September 11 attacks on the US in 2001.
Resentment has been growing in southern and eastern Afghanistan against the presence of US troops and the way innocent civilians are often caught up in their operations. In February, officials in Afghanistan’s Helmand province said at least 17 civilians were killed when coalition aircraft bombed a mountain base believed to be sheltering Taliban fighters.
The US military insisted only one civilian was wounded in that incident. Last July, more than 48 civilians were killed and over 100 wounded when a US gunship fired on a wedding party in the central town of Deh Rawud, according to villagers and Afghan officials. The US military said its gunship had come under anti-aircraft fire from the area.
Lefforge said a major new operation, named Resolute Strike, had been launched yesterday in the southern province of Helmand, involving 500 soldiers as well as attack and assault helicopters.
He said 41 people had been detained initially but 34 of them released, adding that weapons and bomb-making equipment had also been recovered.
The Taliban have launched a series of attacks in recent weeks throughout Afghanistan, mainly on US and Afghan government targets.
Officials say the campaign appears designed to coincide with the US-led war in Iraq, as well as taking advantage of the arrival of spring, the traditional Afghan fighting season.